José Luis Alexanco, 39 key tenths of the Spanish art scene

This exhibition is the result of a long process of discussion and elaboration. more than a decade ago, Rafael Levenfeld y Valentín Vallhonratresponsible for the University Museum of Navarra, addressed Jose Luis Alexanco (Madrid, 1942-2021) to propose to show a newly created project in its rooms, which would allow opening a dialogue with the public.

The reasons for choosing this artist were several: on the one hand, his leading role in the Pamplona Encounters, whose 50th anniversary is celebrated in 2022. Also, his work was deeply related to the Museum’s own line of argument: imaging by mechanical means.

Finally, that in the collection that gave rise to the Museum, that of María Josefa Huarte, there was no work by Alexanco, a resounding absence, especially considering that it was the Huarte family who sponsored the aforementioned Encounters.

The four series of ‘Los Décimos’ meet for the first time, one of the works that Alexanco considered essential

But this absence has been a feature of the artist’s public physiognomy. Cap Corrales, in the detailed study dedicated to him in the catalogue, points out the absence of his name in the review of episodes in which his intervention was decisive: as founder of the Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms seminar, in the legendary Calculus center of the Complutense ; as an intellectual and technical collaborator of the essential gallery Vijande; as a key piece (along with louis de paul) of the aforementioned Encounters, and even as the author of the first edition of the Spanish Constitution, which he carried out fulfilling an institutional assignment on the occasion of its proclamation.

All this makes him a kind of hidden key piece in the puzzle of Spanish art, without which the scene cannot be completed. The truth is that this partial oblivion was recently compensated with the great retrospective exhibition of 2020 in the Alcalá 31 room. But shortly after, in May 2021, Alexanco died unexpectedly.

Alexanco: ‘First tenth. Correction of signs winning the red’, 1980-1981

We have to put these considerations aside, because what interests us now as spectators is the originality and power of the present work, in which two factors that guided its trajectory from the beginning are very visible.

On the one hand, his interest in plastically resolving the representation of movementa goal that led to his early computer science research (he learned to program and created the MOUVNT program, for the infinite and random generation of shapes).

[José Luis Alexanco, reflexión ininterrumpida]

And, on the other, the importance he always attached to processes, even more so than the results. Proof of this was also an early recognition in the field of a technique as procedural as engraving: he was awarded the National Engraving Prize in 1965.

This exhibition brings together for the first time the four series that make up The Tenths, one of the jobs that he considered essential in his career. Made in 1978, 1998, 2018 and 2021, they were conceived with a clear intention of fixing and ordering the unpremeditated maelstrom of a completed stage of work.

Rarely can we find such a successful combination of creative drive and constructive rigor

These are sets of ten canvases per series (except for the last, unfinished one), which together form panoramic murals meter and a half high by fifteen wide. In the aforementioned retrospective only two were shown, the second and the third, The Twenty Tenths (1998) y The Thirty Tenths (2018), and they already gave rise to an overwhelming set design, so imagine now…

José Luis Alexanco: 'Twenty tenths', 1998

José Luis Alexanco: ‘Twenty tenths’, 1998

As extraordinary as its dimensions is its very composition: based on a geometric/musical structure, it incorporates the materials, forms, modules and resources used in that period, in such a way that they end up constituting a kind of atlas or visual archivebut above all procedural, of the same.

The last series, on which he worked until his departure, consists of digital prints of scanned fragments of his drawings, which together with canvas cutouts and brush strokes make up a kind of sediment of incredible plastic richness.

[Críticas, coches bomba y jolgorio: el caos fecundo de los Encuentros de Pamplona]

Though The Tenths constitute the core of the exhibition, a premonitory drawing entitled Soldier, whose vibrant profiles already allude to the question of movement. And, almost as a counterpoint, it is also projected The journeya very original example of kinopainting, in which Alexanco transferred to the cinema the resources that traditional painting found to represent movement.

Finally, we will also see some works from 1985, belonging to the last exhibition held at the Vijande gallery and that after long years of storage have come to light again.

Rarely can we find such a successful combination of creative drive and constructive rigor. Alexanco, who belongs to the generation of Luis Gordillo and Darío Villalba, has in common with the former the organic gesture and sharp color, and with the latter the interest in mechanical means of reproduction. He was also a geometer of passion and that is perhaps one way to sum up his style.